16 January 2015
The mass media tends to ignore fantasy stories, especially high fantasy stories. So it came as a pleasant surprise to me that George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic A Song Of Ice And Fire was being adapted for television -- and HBO crafts it with all the dignity it deserves, with plenty of grime, blood and a tangle of convoluted storylines.
The castle of Winterfell is thrown on its ear when King Robert (Mark Addy) of Westeros arrives to ask Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) to be his Hand. But soon after Ned agrees, he receives a message from his mentor's widow, informing him that Queen Cersei's (Lena Headey) family, the Lannisters, are secretly plotting against the king -- and that they are killing off anyone who might be a threat to them.
One of Ned's younger sons is gravely wounded when he sees something shocking, and the acid-tongued dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is framed for the crime. Ned's bastard son Jon (Kit Harington) joins the Watch near the Wall -- but has little idea of the horrors that are approaching with the White Walkers.
And across the Narrow Sea, exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen is wed to the barbarian lord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), so that her brother can invade Westeros and take back the throne. But Daenerys quickly grows in strength and wisdom, and the Small Council of Westeros has reason to fear her when it's found that she's pregnant -- but her greatest power is that of the dragon's daughter.
As Ned takes to his new duties, he begins investigating the death of his predecessor, and begins to uncover a shocking secret about the queen and her children. Treachery, death and war will be brought to Westeros, and a war will begin with the blood of the good-hearted.
"A Game of Thrones" is truly an epic story -- it took a whole ten episodes to encapsulate a single book, and the story is far from over. There are countless plot threads woven into one enormous, bloodsoaked tapestry, linked together even if they are technically separate. And since this is only based on the first of Martin's books, it ends on a note both depressing and uplifting. Lots of plot threads are left dangling, but in such a way that you end up wanting to know what happens next.
The entire series is draped in cold stone walls, grimy medieval atmosphere, windswept steppes, splatters of dark blood and the occasional sunny day. They don't skimp on explicit violence (including the death of a beloved character) or sex, but the focus here is always on the clashing families, battles and seedy plots of the queen. And despite that focus, there is still a hint of the magical in this fantasy -- talk of dragons, the White Walkers and their undead wights.
As for the cast, it is BRILLIANT -- Sean Bean is perfection as the world-weary, good-hearted Eddard, and he's got a brilliant backing cast in Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, the amazing Peter Dinklage, Jason Momoa, Michelle Fairley, and countless others. Even the child actors like Maisie Williams and Jack Gleeson are absolute perfection.
And best of all, their characters are all so REAL. They have good points and bad points, strengths and failings, and they often change drastically over the course of the season (Daenerys turns from a pallid little wallflower to a powerful and icy queen).
"A Game of Thrones" is a truly spellbinding experience, if not one that you want to see all together. Bloody, complicated and full of richly-developed characters, this is a future classic.